Mexico is the United States’ third largest trading partner. Each day $1.7 billion dollars’ worth of goods enters the United States through the southern border. Threats of closing the 25 land ports along the southern border and a shortage of customs personnel are adding to the critical problems that are already causing havoc with crucial supply chains ranging from agriculture to automobiles. Regardless of which side of the fence you are on when it comes to politics, there is no denying that the drama surrounding the United States’ immigration policy has thrown the inland freight supply chain into chaos.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency is currently severely understaffed. This is because of a shift of 750 custom officers to other assignments to help process the surge of migrant families and asylum seekers entering the country illegally. Shifting CBP resources that would normally handle inspection of cargo entering the United States to immigration-related activities has reduced the processing capacity at the border up to 40 percent. This has affected key crossings for not only passenger traffic entering the U.S., but commercial traffic.
The crossings affected include:
Nogales, AZ is the major crossing point for fresh Mexican produce that is bound for the United States that keeps your grocery store stocked throughout the year. Sunday truck crossings have been suspended indefinitely and there are no “surge” officers available to speed up the inspection of produce cargo.
In Texas, increased illegal immigrant crossings at the El Paso crossing have led to the closing of several of the crossing’s 14 truck lanes, including FAST lanes. This has caused truck delays of up to six hours. Truckers crossing at Laredo are seeing delays up to 10 hours. This is because 300 CBP officers have been transferred to immigration operations leading to several of the crossing’s 16 commercial lanes being closed.
The chaos at the border is causing delays that severely affect truckers and carriers that are already facing challenges moving freight in both the United States and in Mexico. Capacity is already tight because of new hours of service regulations in both countries. Long waits at border crossings are limiting the number of hours truckers can legally be on the road. Because they are stuck in lines that stretch for miles, truckers are forced to sleep in their rigs.
All this waiting is also causing truckers to take a hit in regards to fuel consumption, especially refrigerated trucks that need to keep perishable products cool. This means truckers and carriers are experiencing increases in fuel costs. Increased fuel demand also has a two-fold negative effect on the environment as oil supplies are depleted and continued idling increases air pollution.
It is not only truckers and carriers that are suffering negative effects from the immigration issues at the southern border. A trip to your local grocery store is a good example of how you can see the effects of how the border crisis is hitting the wallets of people living in the United States. Delays and fears of borders being closed by the government have caused some produce prices to rise steeply, such as avocados and bananas. The freshness of the more expensive produce is also affected, thereby giving retailers’ bottom lines a negative hit.
Delays in shipments from Mexico of just-in-time (JIT) shipments is causing problems for automakers and other manufacturers. Currently, American businesses are losing millions of dollars a day in extra costs and lost commerce because of the long delays that exist. And if the border crossings are closed, the losses could grow to catastrophic amounts for businesses on both sides of the border as the automotive industry would grind to a halt.
Unfortunately, there does not seem to be any resolution with immigration policy in the immediate future. The freight industry can expect to continue to see continued delays in the foreseeable future. The ideal solution for solving the border crisis would be increasing the number of customs agents available for duty in commercial lanes.
It is expected that the U.S. Customs & Border Protection might reassign agents from airports and Canadian border crossings to the southern border, but that process is expected to be slow. The U.S. Agriculture Transportation Coalition has suggested implementing the Customs-Trade-Partnership Against Terrorism (CTPAT) program at the southern border. This program would allow “known shippers” to pass through with abbreviated inspections to ease congestion at border crossings.
For now, the freight supply chain will need to hold tight and do what they can to survive during this chaotic time. Meanwhile to stay informed, visit CargoBot’s blog every week for the latest news affecting the trucking industry.